AS CRIME WRITERS, ARE WE ENTERTAINING OUR READERS OR EDUCATING FUTURE KILLERS?

With all the information available today via the Internet, TV shows, textbooks, etc., concerning all aspects of forensics, it assists those of us who write crime to make our fiction stories ring true.  The characters, events, and possibly even the locations might be fictitious, but our killer's actions/reactions, and the processes of the investigators, courts and so on are taken from real life.  I do believe it is necessary to do whatever research is necessary to accurately depict all those elements since writers aren't the only ones watching the shows and reading the reference books--our readers do as well.

 

The other day I was watching one of those documentaries about a killer who, during an interview, stated that he based a lot of his methods of torture on a mystery book he had read.  He also had avoided capture for quite some time due to another book, also fiction, that went into great detail about how the use of forensics had caught the killer in the novel.  Now, this killer did not say that the books he read actually caused him to kill; he was not trying to place any blame on the writers.  But he did say that the books were very helpful to him during his 'career' as a murderer.  This man had a library card that he had used on a regular basis, all for true and fictional crime novels.  While he attributed no causal effect to the books, he did state that the information in them made him a better killer.  I guess he forgot to read the chapter about getting caught...

 

Anyway, my point being, have you ever wondered what your readers are actually getting out of your work?  I know we don't 'cause' people to do anything.  People 'do' whatever by their own choice.  But, the more advanced crime solving becomes, the more information we provide in our stories, the more entertaining they are to potential readers.  But, who are those readers?  Are they businessmen sitting on a plane on their way to close a big merger, or are they those teetering on the edge of becoming serial murderers trying to find out just how effective recovery of DNA from certain surfaces can be?

 

I'm not trying to suggest feeling any kind of guilt here.  My stories are hard, dark and violent, and I write only to entertain, as do we all.  I'm just curious if any of you have ever wondered what effects your stories have and who it is they possibly are affecting.

 

 

 

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I.J., In the past, people did seem to have quite the appetite for the destruction of their fellow creatures, and since a lot of them were set up in stadiums/arenas like sporting events, obviously they were designed to actually entertain.

In today's world, unfortunately, I believe the same is true.  There are those who read true crime and crime fiction solely for the entertainment of it all.  They enjoy the brutality and suffering, and the tragedy of it all, is sometimes, as time passes, reading about it is not enough.  They feel the need to act on the words and act them out.  This however, has nothing whatsoever to do with the writer.  This, as you point out, is based on choices.  People either choose to live in the real world or they choose to inhabit one of their own design.  But again, it's by their own choice.  There are no public executions or lions eating their neighbors, so they bring about the violence by their own hands.

Then again, I believe for the most part, a lot of people find crime fiction (and true crime stories as well) interesting, educational, and in a strange way, comforting.  With all the violence we see every day on the news, as horrified as we are by it, we were spared.  When we read about crimes, they are not being committed against us or anyone close to us.  They are being committed against characters, people that don't exist.  They may be brutal and senseless, but we're safe in our living room on the couch under a blanket.  When we want the crime to go away, we close the book and put it down.  For some, I think it's a way to get close to danger without any real risk.

Quite true.  But I don't much like it if a writer makes the choice to write the sort of thing that sells, regardless how it comes across.  Just had a discussion about Jo Nesbo's thrillers.  Thrillers are particularly questionable because by definition they appeal only to people who like to be shocked.  Serial killer novels have simple-minded plots, where the killer just has to keep going for the prerequisite number of pages, doing the same thing over and over again, leaving weird clues.

Crime is a fact (so are serial killings), but it (they) should not be the only focus of the book. Far more interesting is how people cope in extreme situations, how severe stress reveals character, how one may find in the chaos something to believe in.

Sorry to disagree, but condemning an entire genre with sweeping statements is wrong.  I didn't find Silence of the Lambs, The 1st Deadly Sin, or The Strange Case of Dr. Jeykell and Mr. Hyde simplistic.  Nor did I find the thrillers of John LeCarre or The Manchurian Candidate, or the novels of Patricia Highsmith appealing only to the most base instincts.  There are plenty of books that do.  But couldn't we level the same sort of critique to westerns (blood thirsty Indian killers), romances (vicarious sex), or even literary novels (boring and concerning nothing).

My point is that there are many great books in every genre even in the telling of brutal murder, think of No Country for Old Men.

Certainly, for western novels and romance.  Not so for literary novels, but then the newer ones haven't stood the test of time yet.

Didn't read SILENCE. The idea was repulsive. Don't know the 1st Deadly Sin either. Jekyll and Hyde is simplistic.  John Le Carre doesn't write thrillers, and yes, he's mostly very good.  I also don't think of Highsmith as a thriller writer.

I do read a few thrillers, namely those by Lee Child.  His have several saving qualities.  But of the serial killer novels only one impressed me, and that was an early one, Mermaids Singing (I think) by McDermid.  I haven't found her other thrillers nearly as clever.

The genre is overwhelmingly commercial and uninspired.

W., Regarding crime fiction, I have no doubt that there is always something in there based on a true event.  That's not to say we paraphrase, or just change the names and locales.  A crime fiction story is made up of fictional characters, fictional events and fictional settings.  But the writer lives in the real world, and everything we see, hear or read gets in our head.  Even though for the most part I cannot specifically name names, I'm certain I can guarantee my characters are based on someone I've known or seen, perhaps even myself, and events I create are perhaps several rolled into one with a personal spin. Fiction or not.  A tiny bit of the real world is bound to be in there somewhere.

The thing is you got people out there who are gonna do warped and criminal things anyway. We can't hold authors responsible. I know some folks wanna blame video games, books, movies for crime but the truth is you have millions of people reading and watching the same types of things and they still know right from wrong and aren't committing crimes.

People choose what to do and their actions. I will never buy that anything MAKES someone commit a crime. Yes they can be influenced but these aren't normal people anyway to me. If you can be influenced into doing crime, something is wrong with you from the beginning.

I watch and read some sick stuff from time to time yet I'm not out there killing people or hacking women's heads. If Bob goes and does it after watching the same thing, that's his fault and his choice. It's not the fault of the creators.


So no, I don't think authors, directors, producers or musicians have a duty to make sure that whoever buys our work is stable or not a nut.

If a person does something it's because that was in them from the beginning. It's nothing I wrote to make them do it.

The demon might get unleashed but it was already within.



Best Wishes!

http://www.stacy-deanne.net

Stacy, As I.J. has said, and you expanded on it:  It all comes down to personal choice.  We cannot write, all the while being concerned about what effect it will have on our readers.  I'm a big fan of all the crime shows.  I read tons of true crime and write tons of crime fiction, the darker the better.  Yet, I'm no killer or criminal of any kind.  I have always felt that those who say this book triggered this and that TV show made me do that, are making excuses for their actions.  Trying, anyway.  As you put it, there had to be something going on there to start with if all it took was a story or the episode of a TV show to send them spiraling out of control into a murderous crime spree.  I believe the door holding back that demon you mentioned was already ajar before the reader even turned to Page 1.

At least no one can say crime fiction has no educative value.

Jon, Very true, and what it teaches and who can be quite surprising.

I have a completely unscientifically-confirmed suspicion that most writers get into writing because they have a kind of didactic gene that needs expressing. From my own perspective, I remember well as a teenager feeling that there was 'stuff I knew' that I had to explain to other people ... a typical teenage power-trip thing. (Or an introverted, anti-social but thoughtful thing ... )

That has moderated over the years, to the point where I think I don't know nothin', and most of my opinions are worthless in the grand scheme of things. But I do think the urge to write in the first place came from a desire to 'tell people things they might not have known'. Now I just want to write a story that hooks people in and entertains them - i.e. gives them surprises, laughter and a bit of trepidation. I can't teach anyone anything.

Keith, What an interesting point.  I hadn't looked at it that way before, but I also started writing in my teens.  Not crime, but looking back at the poetry from that time, it confirms what you said.  No one could possibly understand or have ever felt what I went through, so I needed to write it down so they would know.  It's wild, but true.

My style and subject matter/genre has certainly changed over the years and whatever the motivation was at the start, the desire to create and share has remained.  I do not, however, write to deliver moral messages, or pass judgment on any of my characters or their actions.  I write to entertain, to make people look over their shoulder, turn all the lights on before they enter a room, don't get too friendly with the odd man in the corner of the elevator...  I want people to finish one of my dark tales and gasp, just like I did when I did a final read-through.  That does it for me.

You can go back to Crime and Punishment to see how someone might use literature as a model. It's used for cultural behaviour and the creation of self-image. Inevitably it will be deployed for nefarious means even by implication. 

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